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Road Test: 2016 Camaro, a day in the desert with a turbo and a drop top

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We all heard the news, but most did not give it much thought…a four cylinder in the new 6th-Gen Camaro?

Really, did Chevrolet not learn their lesson from the 3rd-Gen Iron Duke mess?

Did they not do what they always say they do “listen to the customer?”

Well…yes and no.

rsdIf you know me then you already know that I’m writing this from a complete and total place of love for the Camaro- I own ’em, I love ’em and heck even got to build one of the COPO cars with Chevrolet, so it should come as no surprise that when I arrived at Spring Mountain that I was looking at the car with rose colored glasses. There was something different this time, I was not playing nice. The last time I spent a couple days in a new Camaro it was during the “Find New Roads” launch and even though a few thousand of you liked my attempt at humor, the video was still lacking in the thing that makes Cars Illustrated – well, Cars Illustrated….and that was beating the living s@%& out of it.

…and top of it all Mark Reuss himself called me out on social media saying “bring it” when I publicly said they had better have the local tire shop on call.

Before we get to the tire melting part of this review lets talk a little about the ups and downs of the 2.0 turbo and what it means to you and the segment…

Less weight is always better, more power is always better – agreed?

After you shave the close to 400 pounds off a new chassis that is worlds apart from the previous car, it proves that there is only one simple piece of math you need to know – power to weight pretty much sums it all up.

Chevrolet and just about everyone else has the LT1 455HP SS variant hitting the top end of the quarter mile at anywhere from 12.1 to 12.4 depending on who is driving and what transmission. Toss a set of drag radials on it, let it breath and maybe a little spray and all the sudden you have a 10-second driver to pick up the kids from school without ever tossing out the pleasantries like heated and cooled seats or your satellite radio jamming out your favorite tunes.

But is the four-cylinder gonna do it for ya?

When the new Camaro launched, Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer told the world “The performance of the Camaro 2.0L Turbo will challenge many of the iconic muscle cars from the 1960s, while the Camaro SS’s performance – including 0.97 g cornering – makes it one of the most capable 2+2 coupes on the market,” continuing with “The performance numbers only tell half of the story, because the lighter curb weight also makes the new Camaro feel more responsive and agile behind the wheel. It brakes more powerfully, dives into corners quicker, accelerates faster and is more fun to drive than ever.

Okay…lets see if he is right and hit the road course. Just hold your horses and I’ll get to the tire melting in a minute. The road course will be interesting to see and feel the difference in not only the two generations of Camaro, but a new Mustang as well.

Out on the track is where I finally get a chance to really feel the difference from not only the 5th-Gen but the Mustang as well. At first the line is long and rides are spaced out long enough to tell stories and swap favorite movie quotes, but as per the norm the “enthusiasts slash auto-review journalists” stop getting in line and once again it’s me hopping from car to car, Camaro to Mustang, Mustang to Camaro to really get a feel of how different the cars really are.

trackThe first thing you notice is how dramatically different the two Camaro’s are…yes, the 5th-Gen has taken a lot of punches to the face or better said kicks to the groin about it’s portly track demeanor, but it’s even more apparent when you jump from one to the other back and forth to compare turn-in, stability and overall grace on the west tracks rolling hills and off camber turns. Point blank, the new Camaro is leaps and bounds better than it’s predecessor in every corner and brake zone let alone the ease of powering out with the tail waging from the boosted 2-liter engine….then there is the Mustang.

Now lets not let this become the “bashing” of the classic battle of Ford vs. Chevrolet/Camaro vs. Mustang, but that thing was a heap of junk on the road course. Clunking and clattering the suspension felt like it was about to fall out from underneath every time you dove through the 1st turn and headed down hill. Note: I did drive the Shelby modified cars on the same track in the same conditions a few weeks back and yes they had sorted out the rear suspension problems, but come on Ford I’ll give you a fighting chance to make me like your cars, but it should not come with the added price tag of the Shelby upgrade.

So all of this being said it could be summarized into a simple statement when it come to the road course and where the three variants stand. The new Camaro is sorted, balanced and poised especially when compared to the car it’s replacing…and the Mustang is a hot-wet mess that is in need of some serious suspension tuning, better bushing, heck anything to not hear and more importantly feel that horrible unsettled sensation when you start your turn-in.

They finally set us free….well, more like the track finally closed the session. I’ve always took pride in the fact that I’m always the last guy to leave the track when at these events…I mean why and what are you doing here if after a couple of runs you feel you have adequately tested and compared the cars? I mean, Chevrolet was still going to feed you no matter if you were late or not to the rest stop.

Anyway, with trip map and snacks in hand I hit the road in a new convertible 2LT SS Camaro…complete with magnetic ride and all the goodies you could slap on one. Now at the luncheon and subsequent debriefing the team from Camaro said a bunch of cool stuff about cutting the top off, enhancing the chassis to stand up to vibration and cowl shake..I don’t know I wasn’t paying attention, it just sounded like a lot of blah, blah, blah to me and I’m guessing that most of the Cars Illustrated audience would likely agree – you don’t drag race rag-tops.

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Now there was obviously no drag strip in sight and the drive to “The Strip” outside the other side of Vegas was not going to happen in the 5-hours I had to play hooligan in the gen-6, but it’s easy to find very straight, very long roads in Death Valley, and now comes the fun part. Other than a GPS based app inside my cellular phone there is not a abundance of timing equipment laying around in the Nevada desert so it was all I had to go by and here is what I found.

First up was the 2.0T LTG 275HP 8-speed automatic car…just about as base as you can get one, complete with cloth and sans-moonroof. Out of the hole, without any tricks or pre-load I mashed the gas to a respectable 6.2 0-60 and a 14.7 quarter mile. Back the other way – okay I did it several times, but with more and more pre-load on the converter and getting the turbo make some much needed boost it ended up with a best 0-60 of 5.5 and passed the quarter mile in 13.8. Now I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers, but if you think about that would-be time slip…it’s a click or two faster than a Trailblazer SS and could be a great kill if you happen to slide up next to one at the local track.

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Just to give some perspective I got on the internet and found an archive of road tests with some of the best known “muscle cars” of the day and it’s scary to think that the little 4-banger Camaro would be something to be scared of if transported back to the 60’s – and don’t forget I’m going off times from an app on a smart phone in the middle of Death Valley.

1962 Chevrolet Impala SS – Motor Trend: 409/409hp, 4spd, 4.11, 0-60 – 6.3, 1/4 mile – 14.9 @ 98mph

1963 Corvette – Road & Track: 327/360hp, 4spd, 3.70, 0-60 – 5.9, 1/4 mile – 14.9 @ 95mph

1967 Camaro SS396 – Motor Trend: 396/325hp, 4spd, 4.11, 0-60 – 6.0, 1/4 mile – 14.50 @ 95mph

1967 Plymouth GTX Car and Driver: 440/375hp, 3spd auto, 3.23, 0-60 – 6.0, 1/4 mile – 14.40 @ 92.89mph

1968 Camaro SS Popular Hot Rodding: 396/375hp, 4spd, 3.55, 0-60 – n/a, 1/4 mile – 14.09 @ 99mph

1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR Car Life: 428/335hp, 3spd auto, 3.50, 0-60 – 6.9, 1/4 mile – 14.57 @ 99.55mph

1969 Plymouth Road Runner – Motor Trend: 383/335hp, 4spd, 4.10, 0-60 – 7.1, 1/4 mile – 14.35 @ 101.58mph

1970 Mercury Cyclone – Motor Trend: 429/370hp, 3spd auto, 3.50, 0-60 – 6.4, 1/4 mile – 14.5 @ 99mph

…as for the 2LT SS convertible – All I did was try and kill the clutch and tires and make cool marks on the Nevada highway…

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Mission accomplished….three footing this 6-speed Camaro was effortless, 450Lb-Ft of torque makes it an easy task.

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So to answer that yes and no from the start of this story….yes, Team Camaro has listened to their customers and yes they have assembled what is mechanically the best Camaro ever – you know I still like the look of my 3rd-gen better and no, the 2.0T is and will not be a flop, because if you can run a sub-14 quarter mile off the showroom floor I can only image what will become of that combination once the tuning world gets their hands on it.

Will it replace the LT1…never, but giving the entry level Camaro consumer a reason to embrace performance is an-okay in our books.

Special thanks to Chevrolet and Team Camaro for having Cars Illustrated Magazine out to Spring Mountain and giving us a chance to have some fun in the new Camaro – Also thanks to Brandan Gilliogly for sharing some of his photos – I can’t take a photo and melt the tire at the same time.

Below is the gallery of shots taken at the track and on the road…enjoy.

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